Tour de Shuls

Helping to give special needs kids a fun summer

By Cindy Mindell

For several years, the New England Region of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs has raised money to support the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England, one of the first summer programs for Jewish campers with special needs.

Now in its 40th year, the pioneering Tikvah has inspired many off-shoots, both within the Camp Ramah system and elsewhere. The program offers three tracks: a full Ramah camping experience for 13- to 18-year-olds; vocational training, socialization, and group-living experience for graduates of the camping program; and inclusion of younger campers in typical Ramah bunks. Many vocational-training graduates have been hired to operate the on-site guesthouse.

Three years ago, the men’s club at Temple Aliyah in Needham, Mass. decided to take its fundraising efforts further. Several members, all avid cyclists, had participated in charity bike-a-thons and saw the model as a way to bring together congregations throughout the area for community-building and tikkun olam.

Tour de Shuls debuted in 2008, involving synagogues throughout the Boston suburbs. The event raised more than $5,000 for Tikvah, says program director Howard Blas, who lives in Woodbridge.

The 2009 Tour de Shuls did the same. That’s when David Diamond of West Hartford learned about the benefit bike ride. Diamond, then president of the men’s club of Beth El Temple in West Hartford, was attending a regional Jewish men’s retreat at Camp Ramah, “and I thought Tour de Shuls would be a phenomenal thing for our community,” he says. Diamond shared the idea with fellow Beth El congregant Bruce Stanger of West Hartford, who serves on the Camp Ramah of New England board and as co-chair of the Israel Ride, an annual 350-mile Jerusalem-to-Eilat bike ride. He has also ridden in the Massachusetts Tour de Shuls. By December, a committee was in place, co-chaired by Diamond and Lisa Sue Levin, also of West Hartford.

“I’m passionate about biking and tikkun olam,” says Levin, a past co-chairof Beth El’s mitzvah day. “I’m excited and honored to co-chair the first Tour de Shuls in Connecticut.”

Levin recently attended the bar mitzvah of a boy with autism, held at a summer camp. “Reading the Torah in the woods in an outdoor sanctuary made me think about our event,” she says, “and how important it is to provide special-needs kids with the opportunity to go to camp, learn about their Jewish background, and help establish their Jewish identity.”

The Connecticut event is sponsored by the Connecticut Valley Region of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, with nine area synagogues providing volunteers and supplies.

Tour de Shuls kicks off at 8am at The Emanuel Synagogue, 160 Mohegan Drive in West Hartford with a pre-ride breakfast. Cyclists of all levels are welcome. There are four rides of varying lengths available. All routes end at The Emanuel with a community celebration including music and light refreshments. Snacks and water will be provided along the routes. Pre-registrants will receive a t-shirt and a water bottle. For more information and to register:, or David Diamond at / (860) 673-6885 or Lisa Levin at / (860) 675-7400.

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